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MNA Nurses Denounce Mental Health Unit Closure at Heywood Hospital Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Heywood Healthcare says it closed its MHU for financial reasons despite paying its CEO nearly $1 million in 2018 and more than $800 million in extra state and federal funding going to MA hospitals

GARDNER, Mass. – The registered nurses of Heywood Hospital, represented by the Massachusetts Nurses Association, are strongly against the closure of their mental health unit and call on Heywood Healthcare to re-open the unit, which is a critical service for those in need of specialized psychiatric care and is especially essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our mental health unit is an essential service for vulnerable members of our community,” said Kara Belmonte, a registered nurse in the MHU at Heywood Hospital who has been furloughed due to the closure. “There will be a wave of patients seeking urgent mental healthcare as the medical devastation of this pandemic peaks and then flattens and people are left with traumatic memories. Post-traumatic stress, isolation and anxiety will worsen existing conditions and create new psychiatric challenges. This pandemic is a stark reminder of the need for ongoing access to quality psychiatric treatment.”

Heywood’s closure puts additional strain on a system experiencing a public health crisis in COVID-19. As guidance from DPH has stated, “the surge in volume of patients with possible exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19 illness” could “overwhelm the capacity of emergency departments” (Circular Letter DHCQ 02-03-701). There were already patients waiting for mental healthcare in emergency departments and languishing in hospital hallways across Massachusetts before the pandemic. Now in communities like Gardner, where hospitals are closing mental health units, patients face waiting even longer in an ED during a pandemic or receiving no care.

Donna Stern, a psychiatric nurse and MNA chair at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, also criticized the decision by Heywood Hospital.

“Before the pandemic, we had a mental health crisis,” Stern said. “During the pandemic, mental health is becoming an even more acute problem. We all know the effects of COVID-19 include tremendous amounts of trauma, stress and challenging circumstances that will create and intensify mental health conditions for patients who will need quality, local inpatient services to successfully recover.”

In fiscal year 2018, Heywood paid its President & CEO Winfield Brown a total of $966,472, according to 990 IRS records. Of that amount, $110,549 was bonus/incentive pay.

Heywood Hospital has closed the MHU and is furloughing staff despite access to enhanced federal and state funding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Charlie Baker announced a plan on April 7 to send an additional $800 million to healthcare providers. Congress has also approved $100 billion in funding for hospitals. Before the pandemic, Heywood Hospital was on solid financial ground. The hospital made $2.9 million in profits in 2018 and $3.5 million in profits through the first three quarters of last year, according to the Center for Health Information and Analysis.

Heywood’s MHU closure comes as Trinity Health is proposing to close 74 child and adult psychiatric beds in Holyoke and a methadone clinic in Springfield. A coalition of nurses, healthcare workers, mental health advocates, community members and elected officials have called for the preservation of those services ahead of an April 30 Department of Public Health hearing.

The MNA has additionally called for a halt to all hospital service closure and staff cutbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. No healthcare facility that receives additional state or federal funding to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic should layoff or cancel staff, or close facilities or services.

From the MNA April 21 letter to Gov. Baker:

We remain outraged that amidst a pandemic where we have heard for weeks about the need to increase capacity and avoid overcrowding emergency departments, hospitals are not only proceeding with planned closures but eliminating additional beds and units. We reiterate our call for the state to direct healthcare facilities to halt all planned bed, unit and facility closures for the duration of this crisis. This includes the absurd decision by Steward Healthcare to close ICU beds at Nashoba Valley Medical Center and Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill, the closure of mental health beds at Trinity Health-owned Providence Behavioral Health Hospital, the closure of Maternal Child Health Unit at Falmouth Hospital, the Somerville Hospital Emergency Department set to close on April 30, and the closure of the mental health unit at Heywood Hospital.” …

“Instead of retraining and utilizing staff to respond to the COVID-19 surge, hospitals are cancelling shifts, furloughing staff or laying them off all the while collecting additional money from the state and federal government which was meant to make up for the reduced, non-COVID-19 volume. There is no justification for staff reductions in light of this funding and the crisis at hand. We remain concerned that some hospitals are using this crisis as an excuse to shed staffing costs and improve the hospital’s bottom line. The latest and most shocking example is for-profit, Tenet-owned St. Vincent Hospital, which is reducing staff on a daily basis, and has announced plans to implement mandatory furloughs at the height of the surge. And this is happening just steps from where the state has opened a field hospital directly across the street at the DCU center. This decision by Tenet is part of a strategy they announced on April 2, to utilize furloughs and nearly $2 billion from the CARES Act stimulus package to ‘maximize our cash position.’”

Read the full April 21, 2020 MNA letter to Gov. Baker and more information at

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Founded in 1903, the Massachusetts Nurses Association is the largest union of registered nurses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Its 23,000 members advance the nursing profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting the economic and general welfare of nurses in the workplace, projecting a positive and realistic view of nursing, and by lobbying the Legislature and regulatory agencies on health care issues affecting nurses and the public.